Witnesses of New York Rep. Peter King's first "Radicalization in the American Muslim Community" hearing Thursday affirmed the usefulness of a public discussion focused on radical Islam despite vocal protests against it, including some that demonized the hearing as "McCarthyistic."
The panel of witnesses consisted of a law enforcement officer, two Muslims, and family members whose children were recruited to carry out terror plots. The witnesses praised the hearing by the House Homeland Security Committee, which King is chair of, for providing a space where people can talk openly about radical Islam.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, lauded the hearing as the beginning of a conversation and called for the political will to confront radical Islam. Jasser, a self-described devout Muslim whose occupation is a medical doctor, said refusing to focus on radical Islam is "like trying to treat cancer without saying the name."
Jasser urged future allocation of resources to counter malicious recruitment messages that claim America is at war with Islam. He said that "the whole concept" of such messages is "built on separation."
Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali Muslim whose nephew was recruited by the terrorist group Al Shabab, said of the meeting, "Today was a victory for those looking for the right and the liberty to speak up."
Bihi shared the story of how his nephew and 20 other Somali-American youths were recruited and kidnapped from their Minnesota community by Al Shabab members. Bihi said no imams spoke up for the kidnapped boys, but instead the Muslim leaders and the Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called family members who reported the kidnapping to police infidels and tools to tear down the religion.
Fellow panelist Melvin Bledsoe shared the story of his son Carlos Leon Bledsoe who was radicalized when he went off to Yemen. The younger Bledsoe converted to Islam while attending college in Nashville, Tenn. He later changed his name, moved to Yemen where he stated he was "taken advantage of." In 2009, Bledsoe launched a Jihadist attack on a Little Rock Army Recruiting Center in Arkansas.
Both Bledsoe and Bihi summed up that the threat of recruiting American Muslims is very real.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca had positive things to say about Muslim-Americans, testifying that members of the community have been actively helping law enforcement efforts to stop terrorism. Baca also defended CAIR.
"If the FBI has any charges against CAIR, let the FBI bring them. You have facts, and you have a crime. Deal with it. We don't play around with criminals in my world. If CAIR is a 'criminal organization,' prosecute them and bring them to trial," he said.
The radical Islam hearing, spearheaded by King (R-NY), sparked uproar on both sides of the debate in the weeks leading up to it.
An interfaith group called Shoulder-to-Shoulder issued a statement saying, "We urge the members of our government as well as citizens of good will to refrain from passing judgment on religious or faith groups based on the actions of the few who pervert their spiritual traditions through acts of violence and hostile rhetoric."
The statement was signed by Dr. Roy Medley, secretary general of American Baptist Churches; Dr. Michael Trice, associate executive of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance.
On the other side of the debate, however, is Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who praised the hearing for allowing Muslim leaders an opportunity to distinguish themselves from Islamic terrorists and establish their loyalty to the United States.
But several House members did not see the hearing the same way as Land. During Thursday's inquiry, several lawmakers protested the singling out of the Muslim community.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) said the meeting would be ineffective because it is tainted by the title, which she believes demonizes Muslims. "You can't clean [a dirty kitchen] with dirty water," she contended.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D- Minn.), a Muslim, testified in defense of U.S. Muslims who are loyal members of American society.
He broke down as he read the eulogy of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, the American Muslim firefighter who died on 9/11. Hamdani was demonized after death as a possible terrorist.
"Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethic group or just a member of a religion but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans," Ellison tearfully contended.
Several House members called for Christian extremist groups to also be included in the discussion. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) asked for the Ku Klux Klan to be included in the hearings as a Christian terrorist group. Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) called for alleged Christian terror group, Army of God, to be investigated as well.
Committee Chairman King, however, rejected the comparison in his opening statement, saying that home-grown terrorist groups should not be seen in the same light as radical Islamic terrorists.
King praised the hearing as "extremely productive" and said it "broke down a wall of political correctness." The New York representative also said he would hold another hearing in a couple of months. The topic of that hearing, he predicted, would be the radicalization of Muslim inmates.